I recently had an article published in the UK's Daily Telegraph about the health situation in Fukushima. It was based upon two visits I made to the evacuation zone, the first in December 2018 with photographer Simon Townsley, whose evocative photos accompany the story here (free registration required to view full article).
In addition to venturing deep into the evacuated zone, Simon and I also jumped aboard a fishing boat to take an early morning trip out into the Pacific with a group that takes samples of water samples near the two Fukushima nuclear plants for analysis.
It was a fascinating trip and opinions still differ hugely on the health risks. On the one hand there have been few deaths directly resulting from radiation exposure (based on information actually reported to date) and confirmed or suspected thyroid cancers among children are thought by some experts to be unrelated to the Fukushima nuclear accident. At the same time, the views of those same experts are refuted by the likes of Greenpeace and Japanese government's attempts to paint a rosy picture of the situation (not to mention historical collusion with the energy sector) does give one pause.
From my experience during these most recent visits to the zone, I would err on the side of caution: armed with a Geiger counter, I took regular radiation measurements and one area where we visited was more than 350 times the safe limit stipulated by the International Atomic Energy Agency!
An article in the Asahi looks at Japan Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's recent "unprotected" visit to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, site of history's second-worst nuclear disaster in 2011, and his attempts to further his notorious 2013 claim that the situation in Fukushima is "under control."
The leader visited the viewing area, which is about 100 meters from the plant, in suit and tie in a bid to show the 40-year decommissioning of the plant is progressing smoothly. Abe has also been keen to push the notion that residents evacuated from the region in the aftermath of the disaster -- triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake and towering tsunami -- are fast returning to the area.
In fact, the actual situation in both cases is at odds with his views. Radiation levels at the plant -- and in many parts of the evacuated zone -- are still dangerously high and official resident returnee figures are greatly exaggerated, inflated considerably by itinerant cleanup workers who are occupying abandoned homes and by the government's definition of "evacuee".
Either way, of the 100,000-plus residents who evacuated from the zone in 2011, only 12,000 have "returned" -- around half of those are thought to be cleanup workers. It would seem that just as with Trump's America, Japan is victim not of fake news, but fake governmental data.
And as I mentioned in an article for the Daily Telegraph in the UK recently, the situation at the plant is far from under control, with a million tons of contaminated water and hundreds of thousands of kilograms of strontium-laced sludge being stored within the plant's grounds. Not to mention, plant officials barely know the situation within the three devastated reactors that suffered meltdowns in March 2011.
Asahi article in English can be found here
I am happy and honoured to have a series of photos included in the 2019 Auckland Festival of Photography. The series of 25 images looks at the efforts of local residents to bring a bit of cheer to a Fukushima town that was evacuated after the 2011 nuclear disaster. More details here